Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricane PR 

Say what you want about the governor of New Jersey -- and many do -- but he knows how to handle an emergency.  He was all over the airwaves yesterday telling citizens what to do as Hurricane Sandy bore down on the state.  He was firm but not hysterical.  He counseled preparedness then relaxation while waiting.  His one error was to suggest that people wait by watching the New York Jets on TV.  The Jets were a dismal flop and hardly worth the time in front of a screen.  This morning, skies are gray, the air a low hum and the occasional leaf rising high in the sky to be blown off by constant wind.  Rain is constant but not heavy.  We're in the beginning of the blow and many hours more to go.  The governor will be out and about during the middle of it and winning support from citizens for doing so.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Crappy PR 

Even if the PR practitioner who wrote this was being funny, it was a poor way to approach the media.  There is a level of respect that reporters deserve whether one likes it or not.  This is insulting, and I would fire the individual responsible for it.  The idea that one can dictate to a reporter what to write is beyond the pale.  I had to read this "invite" a couple of times to grasp what was being asked.  It is that far out of protocol.  I suspect the person who wrote it is a marketing PR type influenced more by marketing than PR who believes that one should measure media and therefore, can tell the media what to say.  The individual should get out of PR and find another business, preferably one in which he or she isn't dealing with influencers.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

With Friends Like These... 

Mitt Romney must feel like he is snakebit with friends like these.  While I understand how Richard Mourdock came to the conclusion he expressed, and it is his right to say what he thinks,  he has not gauged the publics to whom he is speaking.  That does not mean one should pander to the public, but it does mean some thoughts one should keep to himself if he wants to get elected and have a chance to influence policy.  It is hard for any individual out of step with conventional thinking to gain a following.  Some say what is on their mind and wait for the public to catch up.  Sometimes the public does but more often not.  Others disguise their thinking until they achieve power. Still others never say what they think but work toward their end anyway.  From a PR perspective, there is no answer to how one should approach expression of controversial issues.  Rather, the answer is pragmatic -- whatever works.  There is always room for unconventional positions in American society.  The question is whether they achieve influence.  Mourdock's approach looks guaranteed to fail, and he is of no help to Mitt Romney.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Self-inflicted Wound 

Amazon may have created a PR disaster for itself with this action of wiping a woman's Kindle clean of all its stored books.  The move already has sparked negative commentary on the web. Amazon apparently invoked Digital Rights Management to take the action but it smells of "1984" when an all-seeing government rewrote history to suit its ends.  It raises the worry that if a private company can control your reading, then what happens when authorities get involved?  Amazon apparently took the action without allowing the individual to plead her case.  It smacks of high-handedness and bureaucratic arrogance.  If I were Jeff Bezos, I would be moving quickly to find out what happened and if possible, restore the woman's reading material.  Incidents like this can ruin a company's reputation.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Big Data And The Person 

This story is interesting and instructive.  It is a reminder that in an era of Big Data with nearly everything being tracked, it is still necessary to observe people directly to see how they behave.  No surprise there.  However, it highlights a certain laziness that can creep into management.  That laziness is over-dependence on numbers to tell one what is out there rather than getting out there oneself.  There is an old, old cliche of management that still applies. Management is a good pair of shoes.  That was updated decades ago to another cliche -- Management by Walking About.  The point of the article is important.  One needs both data and observation.  Both takes on human behavior yield insights into how things are. In an era of counting clicks and page views and other media metrics, there is still a need to observe just how people use the web, social media and other forms of communication.  Data isn't everything.

Monday, October 22, 2012

His Word Against Theirs 

Goldman Sachs has been suffering for several years from bad publicity.  This interview and the book from which it comes don't help.  It does little good that Goldman Sachs has portrayed the author as an egomaniac with outsized ambitions.  Who will the public believe?  Large financial firms today are looked upon as monsters who have ruined the economies of several nations.  While this isn't true, it has some basis in fact, enough to paint the industry black.  So, even if Goldman Sachs is right about Greg Smith, there is nothing the company can say to offset the perception that it is smearing him.  Only time will tell whether Smith is as self-dealing as the company has alleged.  It is better for Goldman Sachs to remain quiet and to endure the criticism for the time being, as much as it hurts.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Timing, Timing 

Timing might not be everything but it is important.  Just ask Google whose earnings release was filed three hours too early yesterday.  There was no excuse for the mistake, and Google's provider, R.R. Donnelley, might be looking for a new client.  Google lost billions in equity value in minutes.  There is no way to know whether it would have declined as much if the release was dropped at the right time, but at least there would have been less panic.  There had to be multiple human errors for the release to hit the wire incomplete as it was.  It should never have been in a queue for transmission in the first place.  Someone wasn't paying attention or was in a hurry.  Almost certainly Donnelley will change its release procedures as a result of this cock-up.  Meanwhile, Google gets to pick up the pieces.  And, as for a make-good, how do you compensate a firm for a $22 billion loss?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Losing A Reputation 

PR practitioners talked constantly about reputation, the need to build it and most importantly, protect it.  Sometimes it is difficult to point to the results of a lost reputation but the case of Lance Armstrong is textbook.  Here is an athlete whose arc has been stunning in both rise and fall.  From a near death sentence from cancer, he went on to be the most famous of bicycle riders.  Then, the whispers began and open accusations that he had cheated his way to the top.  His sponsors stood by him until yesterday but now Nike has dropped him, and he has resigned from the chairmanship of Livestrong, his charity.  There is still farther to drop.  Other sponsors are reconsidering their support, and there is a good chance he will end a pariah whether or not he is taken to court. There is a chance that all of his good work will go with him into disgrace.  Was it worth risking his reputation and livelihood?  Only Armstrong can answer that for himself but to an outside observer, placing personal reputation into such danger looks foolhardy at best.  Still, other athletes are doing it and will do it in their rush to reach the top.  They seem to believe that it will "never happen to me." 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Blunt Reminder To CEOs 

Yesterday's resignation/firing of the CEO of Citigroup was yet another reminder to company leaders that they no longer control their fates.  Boards do, and boards have become more activist.  Vikram Pandit, by all accounts, is an intelligent man but he couldn't get the bank moving to the satisfaction of its directors.  There is speculation that the new CEO will "right-size" the bank and spin off more businesses that are marginally profitable or don't fit a new model of what Citigroup should be.  From a PR perspective, CEOs need to pay more attention to board management.  Directors should never be surprised, and CEOs should achieve what they promise to do.  Both tasks are harder than they seem.  Deluging directors with information is not a solution.  Who has time to read it?  It is a matter of giving directors the right information at the right time and allowing them to absorb it.  Missing performance goals is a guarantee of raising tension.  It is better to under-promise and over-perform.  CEOs are beginning to understand that they are "hired hands" and not the kingly overlords of yore.  It is a come-down but, perhaps, better in the long run.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Optimist's View 

This is an optimist's view of the fate of journalism presented with an historical perspective.  The long look back is important because it reminds us that opinion journalism was the norm until the 20th Century.  What is happening today with viewpoints expressed in news stories is simply back to the future.  What was new to me was the massive downsizing that the newspaper industry experienced between 1950 and 1975.  That is when the country moved to one-newspaper towns.  The difference today is that the internet provides more outlets than ever for journalists.  However, these outlets are not well paid for the most part, and journalists have become the modern equivalent of "starving artists."  Does this mean that more will enter PR once they leave J-school?  Probably, and that will keep starting salaries low in the business, as they always have been.  To put it another way -- the more things change, the more they are the same.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Expensive Publicity  

This was one expensive -- and dangerous -- publicity stunt.   However, Red Bull reaped worldwide attention, and the descent went as planned without trouble.  It is unlikely that anyone else will try a similar freefall in the months, or years, to come so Red Bull has reaped long-term positioning from the highest-ever parachute jump.  The video is compelling in that it clearly shows the chutist tumbling at escalating speeds for miles through the thin upper atmosphere, then he got control and stabilized himself for thousands of feet more until he deployed his canopy.  One wonders how anyone could do what he did, but it proves once more the creativity and ability of humans.  Red Bull took a risk in backing the effort and deservedly wins the recognition for it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Another Technology On The Way Out? 

The PC market is slumping as youths move to tablets and cell phones.  It is hard to believe the marketplace has changed that much.  The PC won't go away just as the mainframe hasn't disappeared but it no longer drives electronics sales.  From a PR perspective, there isn't much one can do to revive personal computers.  Once the public has moved on, older technology goes the way of buggies and whips.  How many offices have fax machines?  They are still lurking here and there in dark corners but the days when there were banks of them has long since departed. Miniaturization and connectivity breed obsolescence.  If Google is successful with its glasses that allow one to view the internet in a heads-up display, even cell phones might be on their way out.  The idea that some day we will be implanted with network technology is not far distant.  Will our grandchildren ask why we ever used such a bulky object as an iPhone?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Setting Themselves Up 

CEOs who get pay raises in good times and bad set themselves up for poor PR.  Take these cases.  There may be justifiable reasons for why these CEOs were paid bonuses in down years but the public won't accept them.  To the average man, it looks like greed, and there is no explanation that can suffice.  CEOs and boards too often forget that perception becomes reality.  Boards, especially, shouldn't be giving CEOs a pass when bad luck strikes.  Risk is a fact of living.  To insulate CEOs from the unforeseen by ensuring their pay creates a bubble in which CEOs can forget the consequences of their decisions.  Moreover, it creates a bad feeling in the ranks, especially if employees see their pay kept down.  Compensation is a volatile issue at every level of an organization.  Because of that, boards need to be especially careful in how they treat it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cheesy But It Worked 

If you desire to get publicity for your product and you don't care how people look at you, then try something like this.  To quote the article:

"Pizza Hut announced Tuesday any audience member at the town-hall-style presidential debate at Hofstra University who asks the presidential candidates if they prefer pepperoni or sausage on their pizza will get free Pizza Hut pizza for the rest of their (possibly shortened?) natural life".  

There is no need for an audience member to put himself at risk by asking.  Pizza Hut already has gained ink and video for the proposed stunt.  What Pizza Hut hasn't gained necessarily is new customers. It could have offended as many people as it made chuckle.  Still, some will wait during the debate to see if anyone dares ask the question.  If so, Pizza Hut will have won again.  Not bad for a publicity stunt..

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Mug Shots and Reputation 

So, your CEO gets a little tipsy one night and is pulled over for DUI.  Suddenly his mug shot is all over the internet.  Try as you might, you can't get it off all the sites that are carrying it.  That is the subject of this story.  The internet has turned into public shaming and mockery of those who have erred, and there is little they can do about it.  Yes, there are services that for a fee will attempt to remove your picture or push it down in search results, but they can do only so much.  A public figure like a CEO will have a much harder time getting his photo off of hundreds of sites that carry it.  Some might take it down when they are paid enough.  Others who feel righteous might not.  Add the mug shot to PR challenges of the internet age.

Monday, October 08, 2012

A PR Challenge 

A company has no greater PR challenge than when political leaders of a country bar it from entering.  This is the situation facing Huawei as it tries to sell telecom gear in the US.  The House of Representatives' Intelligence Committee calls them a threat to security.  There is reason to think the company might be.  It is tied closely to the Chinese government.  The founder was formerly in the Chinese army, and China has been involved in numerous hacking incidents in recent months.  Of course, both the Chinese government and the company deny any attempts to spy, but it is an issue of credibility.  Do you trust a company that has a dubious background, especially when it comes to the fundamental infrastructure of the country?  Huawei's task is to convince the government that it is only interested in commercial sales.  That might not be easy.

Friday, October 05, 2012


Crooks who do this to small business people deserve a lengthy time in the the slammer.  It is hard enough for a business person to build reputation online without phony negative reviews being used as blackmail.  Further, such despicable actions make honest efforts to protect reputation appear to be a scam.  Small business owners now need to protect themselves with constant monitoring and fast response.  If one criminal has figured out how to make money, others will follow.  There needs to be a law against phony assaults on reputation, but it will need to be written carefully to protect free speech.  

Thursday, October 04, 2012

A Ticklish Transition 

Apple is going through a ticklish transition to its leader, Tim Cook.  There is no guarantee the change will work and with the recent hiccups in mapping software, the company is showing vulnerability that Steve Jobs would have brushed aside.  From a perception standpoint, Cook cannot be and is not a replacement for the messianic Jobs.  And, that is good.  Jobs ran Apple as his personal fiefdom, his kingdom in which he could be petulant, demanding, capricious.  Cook is apparently running Apple as a company in which leadership listens more and vents less.  Jobs succeeded on brilliant insights into what products should be.  Cook might not have that vision, but it is too early to tell.  There is no doubt from a PR perspective that Apple hangs in the balance.  The company can continue to blaze paths or it can slide as most consumer electronics companies do over time.  The burden of forging the future is Cook's.  Only time will tell whether he is up to the job.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A Genius For Publicity 

The MacArthur Awards have been announced and 23 people will each get $500,000 to pursue their interests over the next five years.  The awards are ingenious for their publicity value and their ability to highlight people who have worked in near obscurity.  The whole process of nominating and picking recipients, done in secrecy,  makes the announcements lightning bolts from a cloudless sky.  Winners are invariably astonished.  The media write stories profiling those who got the call.  The Foundation itself reaps immense attention again and again.  Of all the philanthropies in the US, only a few gain the recognition that the MacArthur Foundation does each year.  Kudos to the foundation and its work.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Can't Win 

What happens when an issue is acceptable in one culture but not in another?  You can't win.  Ikea is finding that out after eliminating photos of women in its catalogs sent to Saudi Arabia.  From a commercial standpoint, It was the right thing to do.  From a company value point of view, it was wrong.  Ikea is apologizing to the public, but one wonders how that apology is being received in Saudi Arabia where women are still second-class citizens?  My guess is that Ikea's Saudi business is not so large that it will deeply affect the company's bottom line if it is boycotted in Riyadh.  Still, it is a matter of principle with Ikea and from a public relations perspective, it erred.  

Monday, October 01, 2012

Road Trip 

Road trips to clients are reminders of what really happens "out there."  It is easy to sit in one's office or cubicle and to fashion a conceptual framework for how a client operates and the client's differentiation in the market.  It is more difficult when one confronts the reality of the client's situation in the client's office, factory or other place of business.  Simple ideas become complex.  What seemed easy is harder. insights from people sitting in front of you have more meaning. The environment provides cues that are not available by phone, e-mail or video conference.  Being there has no substitute.  On the other hand, one can be too present to the point of wasting client money and time and failing to get work done.  It is a balance that client service needs to adjust constantly.  I don't visit clients enough. It is something I need to improve.

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